Natural gas at the OneOK Gas Transportation hub in Oklahoma traded at $4.19 per contract a week ago. Today, thanks to a polar blast that has produced sub-zero temperatures across a huge swatch from Texas to Canada, two contracts today traded at $999 per million British thermal units. At the Henry Hub terminal in Louisiana, the benchmark for natural gas futures in New York, gas futures traded at a high of $30 today. A week ago the futures traded at just $3.24 per million BTUs.
The cold has shut down production in some fields and through some pipelines (where liquids in pipes and at wells has frozen forcing shutdowns) while sending demand soaring for natural gas to heat homes and generate electricity. Production of natural gas in the Lower 48 states has plunged to a three-year low.
And it’s not just in the natural gas market where prices have soared and supply has plunged. Some retail power companies in Texas are telling their customers to please, please switch to another supplier. In the super-competitive Texas electricity market some companies have grown customer lists by selling offerings with extremely low monthly fixed charges and monthly pricing that tracks trends in the spot electricity market. For example, Griddy, which charges its 29,000 customers just $9.99 a month plus the price of electricity on the spot market, has told customers that they’re looking at spot electricity prices that have climbed to as high as $9,000 a megawatt hour.
Temperatures from South Dakota to Texas are expected to remain well below average at least through Saturday.
Pricing in energy markets is in chaos at the moment and I don’t have any suggestion on how the average trader or investor might play this temporary price surge. Unless you have a lot of experience in the energy markets, this kind of chaos is likely to wind up with you on the wrong side of the next trade. And that could get very expensive.
Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way to invest in this situation in the longer run. And I’ll be adding a stock to the Millennial Portfolio today, unfortunately after the 5 p.m. email alert deadline for today, to provide just that kind of longer time-horizon investment in the fundamental causes of this price spike.